the rant-ress to publishers: want some cheese with your whine? too late, you’re already cheesy.

The publishing industry is Rasputin. Somebody’s just not feeding it enough poison. Or maybe academia keeps providing the antidote. What will it take to kill it? The art, movie and music trades have all been rebirthing, why can’t we writers get some real relief?

I have poems, mini-essays, a poetry book and a cookbook hanging around my house waiting for me to figure out what to do with them without wounding my spirit. I stopped submitting three years ago when I kept feeling sick at the thought. I did put out an anthology of mushroom poems Decomposition in April 2010 with my quasi-spouse but that’s only because the project preceded this soul sickness.

Most bookstores only carry books from publishing distributors. Many magazines won’t let me–or anyone else–review a book if it’s self-published. And yet what do publishers really do for writers anymore that I didn’t have to do by myself with Decomposition? Besides the cover* choice and layout–which I would have rather done myself–what else was given? Niente. Do writers have to compromise and settle for a “deal” with a pathetic royalty rate and a measly advance? Or go it alone and be “black-listed” from distributors and bookstores?

If you’re a poet, good luck making any money, decent sales** or getting help in marketing. Short story writers, ditto. If you happen to work in a popular genre, like crime or historical fiction, it’s slightly better. Regardless the publishing house, many editors barely f@#king read your book let alone do their job. [many kind agents now do editing tasks] Or they take the teeth out of your work. They’re flooded with manuscripts, understaffed and way overworked. Traditional publishers don’t seem that interested in quality writing anymore but they’re sure interested in sales volume. They might refuse to publish your book because it’s too controversial, doesn’t fit a category or believe it won’t sell.

The whining that goes on by these “poor” publishing houses is eerily similar to the ultra-wealthy complaining about a tax increase they’ll barely feel. Substitute any other business who does so little yet demands so much from it’s clientele—would this be seen as a sound business model? And the academic houses are the biggest bawlers. Well, sorry. Ice boxes had to give way to refrigerators; it’s past time to junk this archaic arrangement.

With indie-publishing, the author has more control over contents, design, appearance and where the book is marketed and distributed. Yes, there’s a risk that with no editors the grammar and spelling will suck or there’ll be no story there. But jeez, lots of books suck now.

To speed up this process, we need some big-time writers to ditch this sinking system and legitimize self-publishing, like Radiohead and Wilco did the in music industry. And writers, stop being so insecure that you need big daddy to validate you as an “accomplished” writer. Let’s stop coddling publishing houses—all of them—and start a revolution: do it yourself.

* I love my cover!

**Decomposition may be my publisher’s best seller; I’m still not getting anything.

2 thoughts on “the rant-ress to publishers: want some cheese with your whine? too late, you’re already cheesy.

  1. What generalizing. How bitter. It’s hard not to see this as a wounded universalizing of private experiences. Why not found or join a writers group to rant to? Why not lean on friends to read your book manuscripts instead of vilifying an industry that, like every other, has to live according to a business model. Indie publishing sometimes hits some admirable notes, but by and large it is a hybrid vanity model.

    Probably you know Christine Holbert of Lost Horse. She has a labor of love. I love her and wish her all the best. She has had to struggle and undergo more dark nights of the soul that anyone I know to keep that business running. What’s it all about?

    For writers and publisher and editors alike, it’s a gamble. Roll the die and hope it comes up a number that won’t make you broke. Take a chance then take another.

    Look at your analogies: “The whining that goes on by these “poor” publishing houses is eerily similar to the ultra-wealthy complaining about a tax increase they’ll barely feel.” Bad reasoning. What whining? I have not heard any. Eerily similar? Not to me. You just might be shocked to learn what employees of university presses get by on. Even trade houses are so cutthroat that employees rarely last long. Same problem here: “Regardless the publishing house, many editors barely f@#king read your book let alone do their job.” That’s a vast generalization, one that does not hold up to my experiences with book editors around the nation.

    I will agree with you on this: gone are the days of astute and ethical editors who were willing to take a mass of crap and make it into a book. So many folks are writing today that editors no longer have to do the hard work of a Maxwell Perkins, say, who worked on Thomas Wolfe’s books. They just pick low-hanging fruit.

    Maybe rants are meant to be loaded with bitterness and generalization, don’t know.


  2. Ouch Paul! But I’ll respond.

    I don’t feel bitter, just angry. I’m also not just talking about my personal experiences but quite a few of my friends and from friends *who work in the industry* too. I’m well aware it’s all a gamble but I don’t like a stacked deck. This industry’s biz model sucks and I won’t say otherwise. Like the music and art industries–which were forced to change and are still doing so–it’s long past time for this one to get on it.

    And the industry does whine–and quite often. They complain and complain and they want everyone who works for them–particularly the writers–to “understand” and take pay cuts, give less advance money, don’t fund marketing, reject publishing books into paper by refusing to remainder the hard copies and, really, I could go on and on.

    I remember when Stephen King long ago tried to publish his book on line (when there wasn’t much real traffic) without the industry and he sure didn’t need to. He was pissed at how they were/are and geez, he’s treated like a King (pun intended).

    Yes, I do know first hand how hard employees at university presses work; I’ve interned (for free, of course) and have friends who are still within. I sympathize with other friends of mine who work for big presses as well. No complaints lobbied at any of these people. The MODEL needs to fall IMHO and I’m no longer interested in participating until I see some changes.

    But, who knows? Maybe I’ll change my mind. I certainly don’t judge anyone else for participating.

    Lastly, I want to keep all rants under 500 words so some generalizations will have to be sometimes. I’m assuming if people are interested they’ll do the research.

    You’re also making a large assumption that I’m not showing my work to others. It does nothing to change the industry. Self-publishing used to be vanity “pressing” and that’s still the pervasive myth. But just as in music, that’s changed. So, if I’m to have a “big daddy” he better buy me some upscale dinner, not the crap this industry feeds us. Until then, I’m better off without one.


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